Liminal is a word that resonates well at this time. It has a cluster of meanings including transitional stage, start of a process, threshold, being at a boundary. A liminal season implies a period of time when things are changing from what they were and are still in flux and a new normal has not emerged yet. A lot of uncertainty and even insecurity can go with this experience. Old patterns, ways of doing things and even ways of thinking and believing no longer work so well anymore but we are not sure yet what they are being replaced with.
There’s no doubt that these last two years have been an extended liminal time to some extent in that a lot of our old ways of being in the world and in public spaces have changed. We don’t know yet what the long term future of for example shopping, travelling, worshipping etc, will look like. As I write this my niece is checking in at Heathrow airport en-route to Sri Lanka for a few months, a Heathrow which is much quieter than normal as far fewer people are travelling internationally.
It is also the start of a new year, an annual ‘threshold’ moment when we look back at the year that has gone and start to get some perspective on it and look with a variety of emotions at the unknown year ahead. In one way it is just another day, but our marking of it shows how significant it is for humans that we recognise and acknowledge the momentum of time and try to bring some meaning to it.
It is also a liminal season for the church in general as we move quite quickly from old established ways and expectations to a reality of much smaller congregations and a more marginal place in the life of modern society. This is a process filled with heartbreak for many and a deep sense of loss and an even deeper sense of uncertainty as to what the future may hold, not only for individual congregations but, for wider church structures as well.
Liminal seasons however are a very natural part of life and usher in new beginnings and new ways of being in the world. There is both a letting go and a letting come. We hear often about letting go and how we need to move on and not allow things to hold us back and so on. We rarely hear though about letting come. It can be easier to identify what we have to let go of, but the trick is then to wait patiently and to pay attention to what is in front of us until we see what will emerge. We must resist the temptation to move back to what we know and feels safe.
This is also Epiphany season and the Magi are a great example of letting go and letting come. The wee bairn Jesus and his mum and dad were certainly not what they were expecting, but they were able to let go of their ‘old dispensations’ (courtesy of TSE) and let come this new light , this unexpected epiphany. It left them unsettled in their ways and forever they remain as an example of noticing the liminal moment, embracing the liminal season and letting go and letting come. Whatever lies ahead for you this 2022 I pray that you will be patient enough and attentive enough to notice what new things are emerging…these can be easy to miss if we are looking for something else.